Fuzzy France, Crisp Yorkshire, and Murky Italy: A Photography Update

I’ve been trying to take photographs again, and not just the snappy-snap iPhone photos that are uploaded to Instagram, that I treasure for their quick and easy conversational imagery.


Dan and I brought a 1930s £5 medium format camera with us to France over the summer and had a lot of fun finding film, setting up shots, and generally taking the time to play with the analog format. It was great, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but I may take a roll of test shots first, as these were the atmospheric, but not completely desirable results:

So I’ve been trying to haul the Nikon D200 around with me, both on walks in Yorkshire:

And more recently in Padova/Padua:

and Venice:

For a 7-year-old (!!) camera, the D200 is still solid, though suffering from several dead pixels at this point. You can check for dead pixels in your own camera by taking a photo with the lens cap still on, or by noticing horrible bright spots when you take an otherwise lovely photo. They are non-fatal but annoying, and I should have had the D200 serviced years ago.

Reports that the DSLR is dead are vastly overstated, though I could concede that the iPhone is the new DSLR while the DSLR is the new video camera. I was able to order equipment with my new (awesome) postdoc and I’ll be producing short films with this nifty piece of kit, pretty soon.

iPhone for the Wanderlusty

Leaving on a trip and wondering if you should take your iPhone? Here’s a few things that I’ve figured out over the years if you want the most out of your trusty phone without paying huge bills.

1) Suspend your service. You can call ahead of time and tell them an exact date to suspend your service. They’ll ask why and you’ll just say that you’ll be out of the country and not using your phone. You MUST do this in order to make absolutely sure that you won’t get destroyed by data charges. Yes, you can keep your phone on airplane mode, but some of these tricks make it easy to slip up.

2) Wifi is your friend. When you get to a cafe or a hotel with wifi, let your phone download all of your messages, upload any photos you want to take, etc. Skype on iPhone is genius and when I have wifi I use it to call home and text people. But most importantly:

3) Use location services. The nice thing about iPhones (and maybe other phones, I wouldn’t know) is that the location services still work even if you suspend your service.  Your compass works too. So you are able to pinpoint where you are on the globe and use it to navigate in google maps. But wait, how can I do that if I’m not connected to google maps?

4) PROTIP: when you get to a place with wifi (or you can even do it ahead of time), center your google maps over the place you are going to be, then use the top and front buttons to snap a screenshot. This will allow you to use the navigational services with a street map and google maps won’t try to reload. You can even zoom in and out. Sadly, you can’t use it to search. You can always use the little “crosshairs” button in the corner and it will track with you.

5) Check to see if Lonely Planet has published an iphone guide in the city you are going to visit. The Istanbul one was nice because I didn’t have a regular guidebook, but wanted to explore some of the outlying areas. These have ready-made maps of all of the places, and will locate you on them even without internet service.

6) Use your screenshot ability a lot. When you get to a place that has wifi, check out all the places you want to visit and snap photos of the screens. This has saved me numerous times when I need an address or I am having trouble communicating and can just show a cab driver what I mean. Take screenshots of any important websites–iPhone’s safari app has a tendency to try to reload webpages at the absolute worse times.

7) Use Foursquare while you are abroad if you can. You’d be amazed at how widespread it is, and the tips that people leave in various places are great.

8) Download a yoga program. While I am fully inculcated in the P90x cult and have the series on my laptop, having a yoga program can be really nice if you want something a bit more low-key.

9) Use it to take photos. My DSLR can be a real drag to tote around the city and I don’t always want to take the trouble to get it out and stick it in peoples’ faces. iPhones are a lot more casual and often can get pretty decent results. Moreso if you want to run it through the many programs I’ve talked about before. I also find that I’m a lot more willing to take silly shots of food and other things I want to remember.

10) Download a couple of decent games. Dear lord I’ve been on planes, trains, buses until I thought I would die…I’ve finished all my reading and have no desire to watch Avatar in Turkish again and I just want the trip to be over. I prefer card games for getting through the truly braindead wee hours.

Any other suggestions? I thought about getting a data plan with my iPhone while I was in Turkey, but decided to muddle through without it and it has been good enough.

(some) iPhone Apps for Archaeologists Part II

Back in 2008 I was playing around with my iPhone at the Presidio and since then the number and range of applications has multiplied exponentially. I haven’t done a summary since then (and the purchase of my iPhone 4), and while I haven’t even begun to explore the vast range of possibilities, here are a few that I’ve noticed that seem somewhat useful.

I have been using Hipstamatic, Plastic Bullet, and Best Camera in various combinations for my walking-around, snappy photos where I either don’t have my DSLR handy or I don’t feel like the composition warrants a 10M RAW file. While I get a bit of abuse for overusing my iPhone camera, I found myself taking photos again after a long hiatus and I like the casual feel of these photos. I like playing with my iPhone camera apps so much that I’m showing a few photos that I’ve taken with them at the upcoming UC Berkeley TAG.

My iPhone costs a bundle to use overseas, so I’ve disabled my data plan and txt messages and I haven’t taken it off airplane mode since early December. (It’s been sooo nice, but that’s another topic entirely.) I still use it to pick up wireless and use Skype to call back home when I can. Not exactly archaeological, but absolutely essential–Moxie Marlinspike, anarchist sailor & hacker speaks truly, “the curse of traveling – where you end up knowing and loving people in many different places and are always missing someone or something somewhere.” (If you haven’t watched Hold Fast yet, do it ASAP! But don’t blame me for any ensuing wanderlust.)

I just downloaded Theodolite Free, which has mixed reviews but looks interesting. I can spot check it against the EDM, so that should be interesting–if I decide to get a sim card in the iPhone that will work in Qatar. It’s great for checking your pesky azimuth and bearing while taking photographs.

Finally, the application(s) that inspired this post: Qibla direction applications. There’s a structure on site that we think might be the town mosque, and it appears to be out of alignment with the rest of the structures, and it is the western-most building–closest to Mecca. Obviously we’re in the process of working up the plans, but Dan thought of spot-checking after seeing the built-in compass for the iPhone. Again, I’ll probably need to activate data to use the application, but I find the idea pretty interesting. While it’s pretty reductionist to attribute the Muslim world’s long-standing, intense interest in navigation and time-keeping to keeping up with prayer time & direction, it is interesting to see the modern iteration of the gorgeous astrolabes hanging in the Islamic Art Museum in Doha in an iPhone application. These applications are expensive and the negative commentary is fascinating–if you have a bug in your software, then you are directly impacting the worship of your consumers. The comment section in the eQibla app that I linked to has questions in English, Arabic, Turkish, and French, some folks asking how to turn off push notifications, change the prayer time tuning, and re-calibrate the compass. While it may or may not help with figure out our mosque, it might be worth .99 just for the glimpse into another religion/temporal way of life.

Anyone have other suggestions?

Embedded Interpretation

So, once upon a time, a naive undergraduate from the University of Texas applied for graduate school in archaeology.  She sent out a statement of purpose that boiled down to: “I want to be able to embed archaeological information in the landscape, and I want other people to be able to add to that information…on my cellphone.”

Three years later, that’s what I did.  There’s several ways to do this, and this is obviously a kludge, but it’s a start.  I’ll probably load the full documentation up to the Presidio field blog later tonight.

%d bloggers like this: